Northampton 36 London Irish 21 match report: Saints are given an almighty scare by reborn Shane Geraghty

Northampton led 29-0 but were given a scare by the visitors

Franklin's Gardens

There are funny old games in the laugh-out-loud sense – it is difficult to reflect on the Gloucester-Bath cabaret a little over a week ago without falling into hysterics – and funny old games in the peculiar sense.

However, Sunday’s contest at Franklin’s Gardens was just about as peculiar as it gets, partly because Northampton did everything in their power to fritter away a 29-point lead and very nearly succeeded, and partly because Shane Geraghty, one of the great lost talents of English rugby, left the stadium without the man-of-the-match gong.

On the scale of rugby weirdness, the Geraghty decision was an 11 out of 10. The recipient of the award, the home side’s tight-head prop Salesi Ma’afu, put in a very decent shift: indeed, the earth-shaking swallow dive that marked the 19st Wallaby’s first try for the club was eye-catching in the extreme, if not quite a thing of beauty. But Geraghty’s contribution was off the scale, particularly as he twice received the full “Samoan Smash” treatment from the centre George Pisi: perfectly legal tackles that nevertheless posed a threat to life and limb. 

Despite Pisi’s interjections, there was more wit and imagination in the former red-rose midfielder’s performance than we have seen from many of his rival outside-halves over the full stretch of the season, as Brian Smith, the Exiles’ rugby director, readily acknowledged. “I first worked with Shane when he was a kid in the academy, but he’s a man’s man now,” Smith said.

“He masterminded our comeback despite being cleaned up good and proper. That first shot of Pisi’s left him throwing up on the park. He showed a lot of guts out there.” In more ways than one, he might have added.

Geraghty even found the energy to go the length after Northampton coughed up the ball in the visitors’ 22, pursued to the bitter end by the Lions wing George North, no less. It was no more than he deserved. On several  occasions during the first half, he sliced up the title challengers with a combination of smart footwork, delicate passing and an understanding of space – how to create it, how to maximise it – that only the most gifted footballers possess.

It was a pleasure to watch, albeit a pleasure tinged with sadness. Why, in the name of all that is holy, did he win only half a dozen caps for his country?

Afterwards, he was asked whether he had felt hard done by early in the second half, when he peered up at the scoreboard and saw Northampton, for whom he played between 2009 and 2011, almost out of sight, with four tries and almost 30 points in the bank.

“Not really,” he replied. “If you make basics errors against a top-two side like the Saints, which we did, they’ll hurt you. I spent enough time here to know that much. I’m pleased we showed some character, though. We might even have won it had the long injury not broken our momentum.”

That injury was suffered by the young Northampton hooker Matt Williams, who suffered a broken leg shortly after entering the fray off the bench. His season is over – sad to relate, he will be extremely lucky if he sees the start of next season – and with Dylan Hartley, the club captain and resident England No 2, still suffering from shoulder problems, and his bright-spark understudy Mike Haywood struggling for fitness, the Midlanders have serious difficulties with their front-row roster. However, this bonus-point victory should just about see them right in their quest for a home semi-final.

Two tries from ricochets – the first awarded to the wing Jamie Elliott despite a questionable grounding of the ball; the second claimed by the scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i down the short side – made a mockery of London Irish’s good intentions in attack and when Elliott scored a second late in the second quarter, capitalising on a fine pass out of contact by the England centre Luther Burrell, there seemed no reason to question the outcome of the match. The sense of predictability was reinforced when, a minute after the interval, Ma’afu made his mark (some would prefer the word “crater”) after more good work from the same source.

Yet the idea Northampton would go on to win by a distance proved deeply flawed. On 59 minutes, Burrell messed up in a big way, attempting the rugby equivalent of a back pass to the goalkeeper and serving up a try for Andrew Fenby. Sixty seconds or so later, Geraghty disappeared into the wide blue yonder for his seven-pointer; six minutes after that, the Canadian  forward Jebb Sinclair registered the Exiles’ third score from a goal-line siege that had already cost the Northampton prop Alex Waller a yellow card.

Down to 14 men and only eight points ahead, the Saints’ knickers were in a rare old twist, and had Tom Homer’s long open-field pass to  Marland Yarde not been ruled forward, that advantage would have been narrowed further. With an Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final against Harlequins and a difficult Premiership trip to Bath awaiting his side over the next 11 days, there could be no arguing with Northampton’s director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, when he said: “We’ll have to be better than that against the big teams.”

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities